Michael Moline – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

Senate votes to override veto of public education budget as ‘insurance’

The Senate voted Tuesday to override Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of the public schools budget, plus a number of higher education building projects.

The first override was an “insurance policy” intended to keep the schools open after July 1 if this week’s special session of the Legislature breaks down.

“This is an insurance policy. We just don’t want to get to a situation where we end up without having our (education) finance program funded,” Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala said.

“You know as well as I do that we’re in contentious times here. We’re faced with very aggressive House of Representatives in advocating their position on issues,” he said.

“You never know what that’s going to produce. I don’t want to be responsible, as our Appropriations Chairman, and our president doesn’t want to be responsible, for getting into a situation where we leave town and we do not have our school funding in place.”

The measure passed with three dissenting votes — well within the necessary supermajority. The senators subsequently approved a raft of additional veto overrides involving public education.

And when the Senate reconvened Tuesday evening following committee hearings, it approved a series of overrides of higher education capital project vetoes worth about $75 million — reflecting Senate President Joe Negron‘s ambitions for the university system.

“We feel strongly that universities are an important component of economic development, of attracting people to Florida,” Negron said.

Latvala noted that some of the items had been in the budget for years and subjected to vetoes this year for the first time. They included projects at Miami Dade College, Florida State University, the University of Florida, Florida International University, and Florida Gateway College.

The new state budget takes effect on July 1.

The plan remained to take up separate legislation that would funnel $215 million into the education budget on top of the $404.6 million in the state budget approved during an extended session last month,” Latvala said

Sen. Tom Lee asked whether Latvala had briefed the governor on the plan, including the override.

“I’m sure they are watching on TV,” Latvala replied.

Governor and Cabinet to take up environmental land-acquisition priorities

The newest project on the state’s priority list for conservation land buys is a 4,700-acre spread in eastern Alachua County, containing valuable wildlife, water, and plant resources, but also largely given over to pine harvesting.

That’s if Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet approve an updated Florida Forever work plan during a meeting scheduled for June 14.

Sitting as the trustees of state lands, Scott and the Cabinet will review the Florida Forever land-buy priority list and five-year plan for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. A 10-member panel of state agency heads and members of the public assemble the Florida Forever list, and the Department of Environmental Protection the work plan.

Inclusion doesn’t guarantee acquisition right away.

“When things become available, we can make deals happen,” DEP spokewoman Lauren Engel said.

“No. 1 might not be available that year, but No. 27 might have a seller who’s willing to negotiate,” she said. The list “helps us define our focus.”

New to that plan would be Lochloosa Forest, assessed at nearly $5.3 million.

A summary describes the area as upland terrace containing flatwoods, swamps, and marshes, with Hatchet and Bee Tree creeks flowing through. In the past, the area has supported cypress and hardwood logging, and at present pine plantation covers about 80 percent of the land — limiting the parcel’s usefulness for recreation.

However, the property might serve as an “outdoor classroom/laboratory,” similar to one next door at the University of Florida’s Austin Cary Forest, the document says.

Also on the Cabinet’s agenda is the purchase for nearly $5.3 million of 407 acres to protect a network of springs including Gilchrist Blue Springs, near High Springs.

“Four of the six springs are named, with one being a large second magnitude spring that produces an average of over 44 million gallons of water per day,” a summary reads.

“The second magnitude spring, Gilchrist Blue, discharges water through a shallow spring run about one quarter mile to the Sante Fe River. The other named springs onsite are Small Blue Spring, Naked Spring, and Johnson Spring.”

The state’s First Magnitude Springs Project targets 16,000 acres across the state, of which 9,425 have been acquired or have deals pending.

To date, the state has acquired nearly 605,000 acres under the broader Florida Forever program.

Workers’ comp judge ordered to reconsider $20K attorney fee agreement

A state appeals court criticized a judge of compensation claims for denying a $20,000 attorney fee award because of unsubstantiated claims that the parties had colluded.

The 1st District Court of Appeal ordered Judge John Lazzara of Tallahassee to conduct a proper evidentiary hearing in the matter.

“Given the JCC’s failure to provide the parties with proper notice and the opportunity to be heard on the issues that the JCC found determinative in his ruling, we find the JCC violated claimant’s right of due process with entry of the final order here,” the court said in an unsigned opinion Tuesday.

“We, therefore, reverse and remand for a properly noticed evidentiary hearing,” the court said.

The case involved a claim for hearing loss by Jose Delgado against City Concrete Systems Inc. and FCCI Insurance Co. The parties had agreed upon the fee award, but waited until May 2016, after the Florida Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated Castellanos v. Next Door Co. ruling on attorney fees, to file it with the judge.

Lazzara conducted a telephone hearing to discuss it.

He was within his authority, a three-judge appeals panel said in an unsigned opinion.

But the court criticized Lazzara’s seven-page order “that assumed certain unestablished facts and strongly suggested that the attorneys engaged in collusion to commit fraud.”

Lazzara’s order says the judge held an evidentiary hearing, but “there is little support for this statement in the record,” the court said.

“The hearing transcript — only 10 pages long — does not in any way suggest an evidentiary hearing took place. The parties were not asked to submit evidence or present witnesses. During the hearing, the JCC questioned the attorneys about the basis for the fee, but did not indicate any issues of fraud or collusion.”

When the attorneys disputed the finding, Lazzara refused to consider their protests, “on the ground that time for submitting additional evidence had “long passed,” the court said.

Split appeal court upholds Rick Scott’s 2015 veto of firefighters’ $2,000 raise

The governor’s constitutional authority to veto budget line items trumps a state law requiring him to bow to the Legislature when it resolves labor collective bargaining impasses, a divided 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The majority conceded that, under the state Labor Code, “any actions taken by the Legislature shall bind the parties” — meaning a public employee union and the governor.

“Based primarily on a statute, appellant asks us to recognize a limitation on the governor’s constitutional authority to review the (General Appropriations Act), even though the Constitution explicitly allows the governor to veto the GAA or ‘any specific appropriation in a general appropriation bill,’ ” Timothy Osterhaus wrote for the majority.

“We cannot accept appellant’s invitation. The Florida Constitution clearly articulates the governor’s authority to veto the GAA, or specific appropriations therein. It authorized him to veto the raise appropriation here,” the court said.

“That appellant’s members possess constitutional collective bargaining rights does not alter the governor’s constitutional authority with respect to the GAA. … The governor’s action in this case comported with his constitutional authority.”

Judge Harvey Jay also signed the majority opinion.

The dispute involved Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a $2,000 raise the Legislature OK’d for members of the International Association of Firefighters Local S-20 — representing the Florida Forest Service — for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2015.

In a dissent, Judge Bradford Thomas noted that the Florida Constitution also enshrines public employees’ right to bargain collectively.

“Here, the public employees’ argument should prevail, which would not otherwise significantly impair the governor’s general veto authority and properly harmonizes conflicting provisions of organic law,” Thomas wrote.

He cited the principle that, “if possible, amendments to the Constitution should be construed so as to harmonize with other constitutional provisions, but if this cannot be done, the amendment being the last expression of the will of the people will prevail.”

Otherwise, he wrote, the right to collective bargaining is “eviscerated.” Persuading majorities in the House and Senate to approve a salary increase is “herculean,” but requiring the supermajorities necessary to override a veto “in essence holds that public employees have no effective constitutional right to collective bargaining.”

Thomas suggested vetoes of such line items might be justified by “a compelling public interest, such as a budgetary emergency.”

He cited precedents through which the Florida Supreme Court refused to allow the Legislature rescind a pay raise it had approved for university faculty, or to force a contract approved by a governor to bind the Legislature.

“The question at issue here is whether the governor, by using his veto power, may unilaterally vacate the Legislature’s decision to resolve a collective-bargaining impasse,” Thomas wrote. “Based on logic, precedent, and the constitutional basis of public employees’ collective bargaining rights, the correct answer is no.”

Injured Orlando Predators player loses workers’ compensation claim on appeal

A former Orlando Predators player can’t recover workers’ compensation benefits because nobody from the Arena Football League ever signed his employment contract, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday.

Bryon Bishop attempted to claim benefits for an injury sustained during a tryout to rejoin the now-defunct team following a hiatus. A judge of compensation claims had ruled that he was entitled to them under his contract with the league.

A three-judge appellate panel, in an opinion by Judge Allen Winsor, cited the lack of a signature by a league representative in reversing the compensation judge. Only Bishop and a team representative had signed.

Under the Arena system, players are employees of the league, not their teams. The contract term was Feb. 1-Aug. 31, 2013.

Winsor acknowledged that parties may enter a contract without signing it, if they do other things indicating they abide by its terms.

“But in this case, the only AFL action Bishop claims showed the AFL’s assent was the AFL’s decision to let Bishop participate in the tryout. We cannot conclude that allowing a player to participate in a tryout shows assent to ‘hire[] the Player as a skilled football player’ for the duration of a football season,” Winsor wrote.

“The (judge’s) conclusion below—that Bishop ‘was under contract with (the AFL) at the time of his alleged injury’—was incorrect. Accordingly, and because there was no employer-employee relationship on the date of the injury, we reverse and remand for entry of an order denying Bishop’s claims,” he wrote.

Judges Harvey Jay and Thomas Winokur joined the opinion.

The Predators folded last year after 25 years in the league.

In a footnote, the court noted that Florida law excludes professional athletes from the workers’ compensation system.

“For reasons not pertinent here, the judge of compensation claims found that provision inapplicable, and no one has challenged that decision on appeal,” the opinion says.

Andrew Gillum talks policy, disses opponents during Tiger Bay appearance

Andrew Gillum endorsed taxpayer funded economic development programs Wednesday to help the state compete for good-paying jobs — but said the state is falling short on training its residents to perform those jobs.

“What I’m on board with is a diversified approach, including training incentive money for the training of workers. That piece is missing in today’s formula. It doesn’t exist under the current set-up of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida,” the Tallahassee mayor said.

“I would probably incentivize that piece over any part of the economic development formula. If we don’t have the workforce ready to walk into the jobs, then it’s a fool’s errand to go out and wave tens of millions in front of companies to come here when they can’t find the workforce that they need.”

In remarks to reporters following a speech to the Tallahassee Tiger Bay Club, Gillum promoted “shop 2.0” — “our effort to equip high schoolers, but also folks who want to be retrained in the skills that they need to walk into the jobs that exist today.”

Addressing speculation Gov. Rick Scott might veto the state budget — which finally landed on his desk Wednesday — because of inadequate support for education, Gillum said: “I hope so.”

“I’m a believer in equity funding. Equity means that everybody doesn’t get the same thing — they get what they it is that they need within the public system.”

That includes encouraging good teachers to work in troubled schools and providing adequate social services, he said.

In his prepared remarks, Gillum lit into state and national Republican leaders for failing working families, ignoring climate change, and attacking the Affordable Care Act.

Along with Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have a “credibility problem,” Gillum said

“You can’t say that you care about addressing these issues and then you spend your time making it worse, when they don’t show up in your budget priorities.”

Scott claims to be “the jobs governor.”

“But the truth is, in this economy, too many of us need two or three jobs in order to make those ends meet,” Gillum said

Of Corcoran, a possible GOP candidate for governor, Gillum said: “He’s talked about ending corporate giveaways, even while running the least transparent budget process that we’ve seen in decades in order to pass massive tax cuts for corporations.”

Putnam, a declared candidate in the Republican primary, is “a nice fellow” but, while in Congress, “voted for unfunded corporate tax cuts and risky deregulation on Wall Street, where bankers got rich while the rest of us get stuck with the Great Recession, diminishing paychecks, and a massive housing crisis,” Gillum said.

“I’m not buying this and — I submit to you — neither are Florida voters anymore,” he said.

“We’ve had enough with slogans and shell games, enough with struggling to get ahead, enough with shrinking from our state’s challenges.”

While talking to reporters, Gillum appeared unfazed by a raft of environmentalist endorsements Democratic competitor Gwen Graham picked up this week.

“Gwen Graham is going to be held accountable to her record,” he said. “I disagree with the Keystone Pipeline. She voted for it.”

On climate change, Gillum proposed convening a “panel of experts — professionals who understand what it means to have this existential threat to the state’s economy coming directly at us. We’ve not done any of that.”

Under Scott, “we are now dealing with flooded streets” yet “he has not announced the first effort, the first initiative, to deal with that.”

Legislature failed transparency test this year, TaxWatch chief Dominic Calabro says

Of the missteps the Legislature committed this year, the most egregious was a failure to live up to its promises that the budget process would be more open and transparent than ever before, according to Florida TaxWatch chief Dominic Calabro.

In an interview tied to TaxWatch’s release of its annual list of budgetary “turkeys,” Calabro praised House Speaker Richard Corcoran especially for subjecting member projects to unprecedented scrutiny.

Where Corcoran fell down, Calabro said, was in failing to collaborate with the Senate leadership under President Joe Negron from the beginning.

“He just threw it out there — we’re going to do this,” Calabro said. “The process requires consensus from both sides at some point.”

The result was an “I win, you lose” atmosphere. “That’s not a way to run the ship of state. The voters really don’t want that. We want the Sunshine State to be the best it can be. That requires principled compromise.”

Still, Calabro sees an opening to improve the process.

“We could learn a lot from this year’s missteps, and have a process that could go on for decades,” he said.

“The next step is to do this in a more collegial, bicameral manner. Because that’s what we have — a bicameral Legislature. The House would be better off. The Senate would be better off. The people of Florida would be better off.”

TaxWatch has identified 111 budgetary turkeys, suggesting around $177.8 million in savings, for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

TaxWatch, an independent government watchdog organization, has issued its budgetary Turkey List nearly every year since 1983 — although very occasionally the organization found no line items worthy of the approbation, Calabro said.

Governors have tended to follow TaxWatch recommendations in issuing line-item vetoes around 70 percent of the time, Calabro said. Over the years, they have totaled more $3 billion.

Turkeys tend to fall into three major categories. “The first is the old, traditional, flat-out (item) found nowhere in conference — it came out of nowhere,” Calabro said. Next are projects that violate established priorities for state spending. Finally, there’s parochial spending “on local fairs, local nonprofits, things of that nature.”

“There’s probably $500 million to $700 million worth of member projects (each year). One could say well, that’s out of an $83 billion budget. But that’s a pretty high percentage of all the new money we had to spend,” Calabro said.

“That’s money that’s not going to go to great teachers or great principals to get great student outcomes. That’s not going into our universities for world-class education. Obviously, it’s not going into maintaining 115 million tourists a year, who are key to Florida’s economic growth. It’s not going to help us close some big jobs with Enterprise Florida. It’s parochial projects taking priority over the state’s core missions and responsibilities.”

Corcoran opened the session with promises of a vastly more transparent budget process. Members had to file detailed requests for project money, and each required a discrete enacting bill.

By the end of Session, however, Corcoran and Negron huddled behind closed doors to settle major budget disputes, many of them rounded up into massive, must-pass conforming legislation that might or might not have been debated in one chamber of the other.

“It was almost too hard for them to adjust,” Calabro said. Those member requests amounted to nearly $3 billion, he said. “One would think it’s going to be transparent. But it’s so huge, it’s going to fall under its own weight.”

Moreover, the House was forced to compromise on the process with the Senate, which declined to be bound by House procedure.

“They made some good strides. But in the final analysis, by having so many numbers and major dollar amounts kicked upstairs, it gave the strong impression that it was not transparent — it was far less open than prior years.”

Calabro gives Corcoran credit for attempting to get control of the process.

“You want the government to be responsive. You want the Legislature to appropriate money where it needs to be,” he said.

“Instead, all too often, they get caught up in petty parochialism. And that’s what the turkey process for member projects is all about — parochialism that prevents the state from investing in really critical activities.”

Calabro partly blames term limits, which encourage lawmakers “to get all you can while you can.”

“This is supposed to be about good stewardship in lawmaking. Appropriating with a clear public purpose, and clear, accountable benefits to the people of Florida.”

TaxWatch isn’t asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto the entire budget — which would require the Legislature to rewrite it before the new fiscal year opens on July 1.

“There’s a lot of wonderful things that have been done in this budget,” he said — mentioning the Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration plan and Schools of Hope funding for charter schools.

“Do they measure up against the high expectations and standards that were set at the beginning of the Legislative Session? No,” he said.

“It was also the manner in which it played out. It was very confrontational — I think, probably, more confrontational than necessary.”

He cited “the strident language about corporate welfare. The House has been supporting Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida for a long time, and just now did a 180-degree turn.”

Corcoran was right to call out those programs for “some terrible spending practices and a few questionable ones. “The beauty of it was, they got fixed. The governor took corrective action, got spending under control,” ousted the leadership, and clarified that the organizations are subject to the open records laws, Calabro said.

“Every year, items get kicked up to the speaker and president. It was the volume and size — the number of items and the sheer dollar amount that was unusually high. When that happens, that minimizes your representative form of democracy. Because your House members and senators have little or no say. Out of 160 lawmakers, only two make the decisions.”

Adam Putnam: Hack of concealed weapons list produced names only

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam moved Tuesday to calm fears amid reports that hackers into his agency’s computers might have compromised the identities of 16,000 concealed weapons permit holders.

“We on average had 100 attacks a month into our system that we successfully fight back,” Putnam told reporters following the morning’s Cabinet meeting.

“This was an unprecedented attack. It came just a couple of days before the global hack that occurred. We know that it originated overseas, and we’re learning as much as we can in addition to that.”

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced the breach Monday of the online payment system that processes payments for applications and permits.

Two groups were affected, Putnam said.

The first, comprising “at most approximately 470 individuals,” had used their Social Security numbers for non-gun-related transactions with the department — food permits of licenses to apply pesticides, for example, he said.

The other target was the concealed weapons database.

“The only information that was stolen by the hackers as it relates to the CWL database, was their name. Which, in any other database, would not be much of a concern, because you can’t use that name to steal your identity, to steal your money,” Putnam said.

“In Florida, the mere naming of someone who has a CWL is protected information. In an abundance of disclosure, I released both instances that resulted from the same attack that impacted those two databases.”

The state is offering identity-theft protection to the first group.

“The other individuals have nothing to fear in terms of identifying information that could be used to further impact their credit rating, their money, their financial accounts, identity theft, or anything else,” Putnam said.

Time growing short for Rick Scott to decide ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill’s fate

A history of alcoholism in Gov. Rick Scott’s family will inform his decision about whether to sign the “whiskey & Wheaties” bill, which would tear down the wall of separation between hard liquor and other goods.

“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on that bill,” Scott told reporters.

“I’ve had family members who have had the challenge of alcoholism,” he said when asked about that history. “It concerns me. As I review the bill — I think I have to be finished sometime tomorrow on it — I take all those things into consideration.”

Scott said he was scheduled to talk to representatives of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — one of the big-box stores supporting the bill — and ABC Fine Wines & Spirits — which is opposed.

Scott still wasn’t prepared to say whether he would veto the state budget approved by the Legislature during an extended session this month. “I’m going to review my options,” he said.

“One thing the governor doesn’t have the opportunity to do is put more money into the budget,” he said.

“I’m going to continue to fight for making sure that we do everything we can to fully fund Visit Florida and fully fund Enterprise Florida. If we don’t, it’s more difficult to believe we’re going to continue to see the job growth rate that we’ve seen.”

The Legislature took away Enterprise Florida’s economic incentives budget, and gave Visit Florida about one-quarter of the $100 million Scott requested.

Meanwhile, Scott took at least some of the credit for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s six-month extension of temporary protected status for Haitian refugees, announced Monday.

Scott said he’d pleaded their case to Secretary John Kelly.

“I brought up the issue that our Haitian community is dealing with,” Scott said. “He was receptive.”

Adam Putnam plays down aides’ departure from his campaign for governor

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam suggested that the departure of two key aides from his campaign for governor was no big deal.

“You’re always adjusting and modifying as you move forward,” Putnam said, adding that he wished both ex-staffers well.

Speaking to reporters following Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Putnam emphasized the crowds at his campaign stops thus far.

“We had a fantastic launch — 2000 people in downtown Bartow; a minimum of 22 stops across the state. You missed a good barbecue in the big city of O’Brien, where we had 630 people,” he said.

“This is a grass-roots movement, and I’m very excited about the team that we have, and I wish the team members who have moved on to other things the very best.”

Campaign manager Kristin Davison was relieved of her duties Monday. Political director Jared Small also exited the campaign.

In other news, Putnam criticized a controversial education conforming bill the Legislature approved in an extended session, but stopped short of calling for Gov. Rick Scott to veto it.

“I have concerns about the way that bill, along with much of the budget, was fashioned completely in the dark and behind closed doors — to the point that, not only the public, but many of the members who were asked to vote on it were unaware of all the different things that were taped together at the last second and then shoved into the pipeline,” he said.

“Vetoing the entire budget is probably a blunt-force instrument. But there are wide latitudes within the line-item veto that is the executive’s prerogative that I think is the way to go.”

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